Restaurant ownership surges while professionals in table-service segment lags.
At a point in history when black entrepreneurs are bullishly opening mainstream restaurants that have little to no traditions in soul food or Southern fare, black professionals remain bit players in the mid-to-upscale foodservice world.
These two opposing trends come when a spate of high-profile developments in politics, society and food broadcasting has coalesced to put a glowing spotlight on blacks in foodservice.
Just recently, there was President Barack Obama’s $30,300-a-plate March fundraising dinner at Harlem’s Red Rooster, the four-month-old venture by chef-owner Marcus Samuelsson, the Ethiopian-born, European-trained television personality and culinary mentor who is arguably the most visible and most celebrated black chef on the scene today. This evening paid rich dividends to the historically black neighborhood currently experiencing a rapid gentrification and a host of black-owned dining options. Chocolat, Native, Mojo and Melba’s are just a few of Red Rooster’s black-owner competitors.
And just a few weeks before the Obama fundraiser, the BCA (formerly the Black Culinarian Alliance), hit a first-time milestone in its 18-year history. The mentoring and career networking organization for culinary professionals of color sold every seat in the ballroom of the Marriott Marquis in Times Square for its $300 to $400 per ticket Annual Cultural Awareness Salute Dinner.
A $10,000 donation by the acclaimed chef Charlie Trotter of Chicago and a slick, record-breaking, 58-page thick souvenir program with 26 pages of advertising fattened its coffers even more.
A Sprinkling of Black Owners
And a sprinkling of new restaurants in Philadelphia and Washington, D.C.—along with Harlem—are opening, owned by black entrepreneurs or chef-owners.
But behind the scenes there’s a more sober picture that is not so encouraging: Black professionals, be they back-of-the-house head chefs or sous chefs, or front-of-the-house servers, maitre d’s or sommeliers, are still largely absent from mid to upscale restaurants.